There is no shortage of radical food books on the publishing landscape, but Eating Promiscuously seeks to put all others to shame. In its introduction, the author boldly states that all agriculture is a mistake, farming as an idyllic and potentially beneficial way of life is a myth, and the only proper way for humans to live is by eating a wider variety of food than is typically available from large-scale farming systems. The book proceeds to explore several alternative models of food production, from foraging in a forest to foraging highways for roadkill—personally involving the author, when possible—in the quest for a better form of food.
McWilliams is diligent in doing his research firsthand, and this results in a kind of experiential journalistic approach that is reminiscent of the work of Jon Ronson (The Psychopath Test). The effect is wildly engaging, on par with the farming manifestos of which Eating Promiscuously is critical.
However, the book consistently gets sidetracked on ethical questions of veganism. While not completely unrelated to the topic, this addition to the book’s scope narrows the book’s audience to vegans, a group to which it often seems to be speaking specifically. Worse, its tone around meat eaters is at best dismissive; do not expect unconverted carnivores to come to vegetarianism after finishing this book. Combined with a nebulous conclusion—how are we to eat promiscuously?—the result is not nearly as convincing as it could be.
This lack of conviction is something of a tragedy. Witty, accessible, and very interesting, the book addresses topics that many Americans think about a great deal, including obesity. The concept of promiscuous eating by itself seems appropriate for a minor food craze. Freegans, dulse enthusiasts, and other radical food warriors will probably enjoy it. Others will need a strong stomach.
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